Looking for cheap lunch ideas that are healthy, filling, and budget-friendly? Here are my top recommendations for the best cheap lunch ideas that your family will love.
Coming up with a full-on, sophisticated lunch is not always possible. We get it: you have a busy weeknight, and you have a lot of things going on in the morning. Perhaps, you’re also working with a limited budget.
Don’t stress out. With some meal planning, you could prepare a week’s worth of lunches that are quick and easy to make. Plus, these are budget-friendly, cheap lunch ideas that don’t skimp on flavor and nutrition.
These are great lunch ideas for work and make great school lunches for your kids. Whatever the case, your family will power up through the day with these quick and cheap lunch ideas that won’t tire you out.
Cheap Lunch Ideas for the Entire Family
1. Chicken Salad
When it comes to cheap lunch ideas, chicken salad always comes to mind. Chicken salad has everything you’d want in a healthy meal — some protein from chicken and vitamins from fresh vegetables and fruits. Just add some ranch dressing, and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy lunch.
2. Meatball Sandwich
Meatballs are always a great hit among kids and adults. If you have surplus meatballs from last night’s marinara or spaghetti, you can turn them into meatball sandwiches for a quick lunch the next day. Stuff meatballs in between toasted bread, add some sauce, and layer with some shredded cheese before baking for 3 minutes. Also, you can meal prep meatballs as they keep well in the freezer.
3. Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly is a great lunch idea for work or school, especially if you’re pressed with time. The PB&J sandwich is quick and easy to make; it is cheap and filling too. But if you’re sick of your good ole peanut butter and jelly, you can try sprucing things up by adding some almond butter, making it into a French toast, adding some cream cheese, and some crispy bacon.
4. Easy Pasta Salad
The pasta salad is one of the best lunch ideas for work, especially if you want a quick lunch that you can put together in minutes. You just need to cook some pasta, toss in some fresh ingredients like vegetables (leftovers work just as well, too), add a salad dressing, and top with some shredded cheese. If you want to make your pasta salad a little fuller, you can add your protein sources of choice, like poached shrimp or leftover chicken.
5. Egg Salad
The egg salad is literally a cheap meal that you can whip quickly in the morning. All you need to do is boil and mash some eggs and mix them with salad dressing made with Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and mayonnaise.
You can eat the egg salad as is, or you could spread it over some crackers or use it as a sandwich spread between toasted bread. You can prepare a good batch of egg salad for the next following days. Place them in a microwave-safe container and heat them as needed.
6. Pasta Frittata
Don’t let your leftover pasta go to waste because you can turn it into a cheap lunch the next day. Just mix leftover pasta with eggs, grated parmesan cheese, olive oil, and butter. You can cook this until golden brown in a cast iron skillet and top with fresh herbs before serving.
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7. Tuna Salad
You can swap your chicken salad with tuna salad if you want a light, nutritious yet cheap lunch idea. And just like the chicken salad, you could actually meal prep tuna salad so you have a couple of portions you can just grab and go. You can eat tuna salad as it is or serve it over sliced bread. If you want to spice it up, you could add cheese, eggs or avocados. You could also switch up your salad dressing by using plain Greek yogurt or ranch dressing.
8. Ramen Noodles
Ramen noodles can be a great easy lunch, especially if you’re short on time. But instead of consuming ramen noodles the typical way, you can level it up a bit when you add chicken and frozen veggies.
9. Cheese Sandwich
The cheese sandwich is probably one of the most basic, easy, and cheap lunch ideas you could whip up during your lunch break. Most people would make grilled cheese sandwiches to enjoy that gooey melted cheese between two slices of toasted bread. You can choose feta cheese, cheddar cheese, or any other cheese you have on hand. For a quick upgrade, add some caramelized onions and thinly-sliced cucumbers.
10. Grilled chicken
You can easily make grilled chicken with a few ingredients, plus your favorite spices. Make sure to marinade your boneless chicken breasts for some time to enjoy all the flavors, and then grill for a couple of minutes for an easy and quick lunch. If you have some extra, you could shred the meat and add it to your chicken salad, pasta, or soup.
11. Quinoa Salad
I love quinoa salad, and it’s easily one of the easy lunch ideas for work or home that I keep returning to. Quinoa salad is a filling, cheap lunch meal, as it is loaded with protein and the hearty goodness of fresh ingredients like bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, and tomatoes. Simply cook quinoa according to package directions, toss in your veggies, and mix with your preferred light dressing.
12. White Bean and Tomato Soup
The white bean and tomato soup are one of the best cheap lunch ideas that are perfect for the cold weather. It is hearty and comforting, and best of all, it is pretty cheap. All you need is some cannellini beans, a can of whole tomatoes, some red and green onions, spinach, and vegetable broth. You can top the soup with some sour cream and pair it with grilled cheese sandwiches.
13. Burrito Bowls
One good way to save money is to make your own burrito bowls at home. If you are looking for low-carb and gluten-free lunch recipes, this one fits the bill perfectly, as you won’t be using tortilla chips. All you have to do is shred some leftover chicken, add in some black beans and brown rice, lime juice, sliced avocados and finish with your favorite toppings.
14. Homemade Tacos
Homemade tacos are a cheap meal using leftover lunch meat or ground beef. Add spices to the shredded lunch meat or use a commercial taco seasoning according to the package directions. Spoon cooked taco meat into shells, and put on your favorite toppings: cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and diced onion.
15. Flatbread Pizza
Don’t want to spend money on takeout pizza? You can easily make some for lunch and save money with the pita bread pizza. Simply put some tomato sauce over pita bread and layer with your preferred topics. You could even use whatever you have in your fridge or pantry and finish it off with shredded cheese before baking. This is a cheap, quick meal that you can make time and again.
16. Bento Box Lunch
Bento box lunches are a great way to prepare well-thought-out meals that are packed with nutrition but are also easy on the budget. Making a bento box lunch is quick and easy. Just put in nutritionally-loaded meals, like sliced cucumber and carrot sticks, add in some protein like grilled chicken, and of course, don’t forget to add some fruits. Put in some effort in the presentation to make it more appetizing, especially for kids bringing lunch to school.
17. Chickpea Salad
Putting together this chickpea salad recipe for lunch is a total game-changer. Not only does it help you save money because the ingredients are cheap and accessible, but it’s also filling so you don’t get tempted to snack in between meals. To make this salad, simply mix chickpeas, some red onion, cherry tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers. Adding fresh lemon juice gives this salad a more refreshing, tangy taste.
18. Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed peppers are also one of the easiest and quickest meals you can make during a busy lunch or weeknight dinner. Simply cut the bell peppers in half and roast for 20 minutes. Now put a mixture of sauteed ground meat and rice inside the peppers, then top generously with grated cheese. Pop them back into the oven until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.
19. Black Bean Burritos
Black bean burritos are tasty and satisfying lunch recipes that you can make ahead. All you need are some black beans mixed with rice and sliced avocados and then wrapped in a tortilla. You can wrap each burrito in foil so you can freeze them properly. When hungry or when the craving strikes, you can just take out a portion and reheat it in the microwave.
20. Slow Cooker Whole Chicken
A whole chicken is cheaper than chicken parts, so it’s a good way to save money. Plus, with some meal planning, you can cook a slow cooker whole chicken, so you don’t get too frazzled come lunchtime. Just rub the entire chicken with your favorite Italian seasoning and your favorite spices, and dump it into your crockpot with chopped vegetables as the side dish. The dish will cook on its own without you having to check on it repeatedly, but the result is an incredibly festive lunch.
21. Tuna Melt Sandwich
The tuna melt sandwich is another great lunch recipe for work or school. Just mix drained tuna with some Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. Spread the mixture between two slices of bread and add a slice of cheese. Now put the sandwich on a hot skillet and cook until the bread turns brown and crunchy and the cheese is melted.
22. Lentil Stew
You might think that a stew for a mid-day meal is not exactly the best, but you just have to give this recipe a try. A lentil stew is a fantastic lunch option for when you want to go meatless. You just have to put the lentils in your slow cooker and add some vegetable broth and your preferred seasoning. Pour in some heavy cream for a thicker consistency, and then serve over freshly-steamed white rice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cheapest thing to eat for lunch?
Some of the cheapest things to eat for lunch include sandwiches and salads. But you can also re-invent the leftovers from last night’s dinner and pack them for lunch the next day.
What is the cheapest healthiest lunch?
Going for bento boxes is a good way to ensure that you eat a nutritionally balanced lunch. You fill each partition of the bento box with healthy meals, like sliced veggies and fruits, a protein source, and perhaps a healthy dessert as well. Using a bento box also makes you more mindful of your portions.
Food is categorically one of our largest expenses. Lunches do get more costly if you tend to eat out. However, you can potentially save money through meal planning. Make sure to use up the leftovers by getting a little creative. You could also explore lunch ideas that use in-season ingredients as they are often cheaper and fresher.
I don’t suggest sacrificing nutrition just for the sake of saving money on food (unhealthy eating will only cost you more money down the road). Instead, go for lunch ideas that are filling, healthy, and meet your dietary or nutritional requirements.